There’s No Loyalty in Footwear Design

Written by Katelyn Crawford

You are a top designer for Nike and you want to start your own brand, but how do you do that? According to Nike, you steal secret trade secrets and jump ship to Adidas.

That’s what Nike is claiming three of their former top designers did. The designers— Denis Dekovic, Marc Dolce and Mark Miner— were promoted within Nike and given the equivalent of top security clearance for special design projects. They violated their contracts with Nike when they approached Adidas with the new designs and materials in hand.

In early December 2014, Nike filed suit against the designers for upwards of $10 million dollars, and to prevent them from opening a design lab with its biggest rival. The claim alleges breach of contract (non-compete clauses), conspiracy, and leaking trade secrets.

According to the footwear powerhouse, Dekovic, Dolce and Miner coordinated their move to Adidas in unison. They conspired to steal Nike’s latest designs and materials and then offer them to Adidas for higher pay and greater independence in the team’s designs. Nike offers a strong time line showing that the designers were given promotions, Dekovic specifically moved to Italy where non-compete clauses are rarely and weakly enforced, and then the group approached Adidas. The trio began “do[ing] work for” Nike’s competitor in April of 2014, long before officially leaving Nike.

Nike claims it has recovered some damning communications between the three designers. Dekovic, Dolce and Miner used company issued laptops and cell phones for much of their work communication. The trio eventually got personal cell phones to continue their plans. However, Nike was able to recover deleted communications from the company issued hardware. These text messages and emails outline the designers’ plan to steal Nike’s confidential information and take it to Adidas.

The most shocking part? Dekovic, Dolce and Miner also planned to leave Adidas once Adidas gave them independence in their designs. They would take those designs—which would be funded by and marketed by—and make their own shoe design company. This has little to do with the litigation between Nike and the designers, but it seems to be Nike’s way of sticking it to Adidas, saying, “By the way, they’re planning to screw you too.”

Nike’s main legal claims are violating the company’s policies and contract. Specifically, the complaint cites, breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference, fraud in the inducement, conversion, and civil conspiracy. All of the claims are related.

Nike’s first claim, breach of contract, is simple. The non-compete clause in the designers’ contracts is very clear: they are not to directly or indirectly work for Nike’s competitors—specifically naming Adidas— while employed by Nike and within 1 year of leaving the company. Dekovic, Dolce and Miner violated the clause when they began consulting for Adidas before they even left Nike.

The non-compete clause also ties in with the trade secrets claim, because the clause specifically prohibits Nike designers from releasing any “Protected Information” for any reason at any time. In fact, the language specifically states that the employees are supposed to “protect” the special information. The designers breached this clause when they released protected information such as material designs, marketing campaigns, development plans and other sensitive materials.

The designers have not responded to the claim yet, but they have not kept quiet. Dekovic stated on his Instagram that he respects and cares about his former Nike coworkers, and that the decision to leave was not based in malice. It was just a personal decision that was best for his career.

Adidas has released a vague statement, claiming that the company is an industry leader and “Many of our employees have storied careers and rich experiences, but we have no interest in old work or past assignments…”

About the author

Katelyn Crawford

Katelyn is a graduate of George Mason University School of Law, where she studied economics as applied to law. She also completed course work at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. While living in Washington, D.C. Katelyn was a journalist, and worked in numerous policy areas including technology, military and education. She now works in financial compliance, and writes for multiple publications. When Katelyn isn't being a lawyer or writer, she is a photographer. You can follow her on twitter @WeSingSin.

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